As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we wanted to highlight some of the local Asian-Americans who have made a big impact in the Northwest and around the world. This week, we are taking a look at former Washington Governor Gary Locke, the first Asian American Governor in the continental U.S.
Locke was born in 1950 in Seattle, Washington, and is a third generation Chinese American. His grandfather immigrated to Washington and worked in exchange for English lessons. Locke’s father was also born in China, before opening a store in the U.S., where Locke worked as a boy growing up in Seattle.
He got into politics in 1982, when he was elected to the Washington House of Representatives for his home district in South Seattle. He then went on to serve as King County Executive for four years.
However, he made history in 1996 when he ran for Governor of Washington and won the general election. This made Locke the first Chinese American governor in U.S. history. While in office, he had the most diverse state cabinet at the time, with more than half of his appointees being women. He served in the state’s top spot for 8 years, winning reelection in 2000, before announcing he would not seek a third term.
Locke remained in public service after leaving office, taking a position as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in 2009 under President Obama. He attended meetings as part of the president’s cabinet and was one of three Asian Americans serving in the cabinet at the same time.
In 2011, Locke accepted a position to be Ambassador to China. In taking the job, Locke became the only person of Chinese descent to have served as an ambassador to China. While in office, Locke reduced wait times in the immigration process, and promoted clean air quality projects and monitoring programs throughout China. Locke left his post in 2014 and returned to Washington to be with his family.
Locke now serves as the Interim President of Bellevue College and is a member of several local and national boards.